I finished my training at the D’Addario Woodwind Method Program Summit in California and will be heading home today. While I have felt like the class dunce with many of the technical aspects of the training (computers!), I have really enjoyed meeting some terrific and passionate musicians and educators from around the country. This trip is proving to be an interesting experience in all the best ways, forcing me out of my comfort zone and teaching me that I’m not too old to learn new things…or at least give it my best shot. The weekend also did something else for me- it reminded me of some dreams old and new, taking me back to my childhood and the very beginnings of my musical training.
My favorite part of the first day was the tour of the D’Addario factory. We were not allowed to take photos, as the technology is proprietary and highly secretive, but the reed-making machines looked like giant octopi, something out of a science fiction movie. It was amazing to compare the old reed machines with the cutting edge (literally!) technology of the new machines as they quickly whirred and worked, sending reed after reed through the processing. It was also really special to to see the historical photos of the company and its products, including images of the reed box packaging. That’s what sent me back in time- seeing the old orange box of Rico Reeds.
It was 1976, and I was in the band room at McLane Junior High in Brandon, Florida. I could see the room so clearly, see the face of my beloved band director, Vince Aguero, could smell the case of my first clarinet that my mother had traded a beautiful antique necklace to get for me. I remembered how magical it all was, the gift of learning to play this instrument and make music in what was one of the top band programs in the country at the time. It gave me something wonderful and positive to strive for, and allowed me to be a part of something bigger than myself at a time when I desperately needed an anchor. In my clarinet case was an orange box filled with Rico Reeds, the first tools of my budding musical dreams.
As I walked through the D’Addario factory, I thought about the little girl I was, determined to practice hard and earn first chair. I told my band friends that I planned to be the principal clarinetist of the New York Phil some day. I knew that clarinet was going to be my life’s work in some way or another, and it was- and is. I thought of what that young Denise would think if she could have seen herself walking through this factory, now a university professor and an artist for the very company who made those first reeds. I thought about my mother and her countless sacrifices that enabled me to follow my dream- and, on the other end of the spectrum, of my father, who told me I would never work when I shared my career plans with him. I thought about the places I have traveled all over the world and the amazing people I have met thanks to music. Most of all, I thought about how grateful I am for getting to do what I love every single day, all because I followed those dreams that began with a used plastic clarinet and an orange box of reeds.
It was a timely reminder to me to never, ever let go of our dreams- you never know the amazing places they may take you if you just believe. Dreams also don’t have an age limit or an expiration date, and I still have plenty of dreams left to follow. Time to get to work.